by NBC Correspondent Mark Potter
In reporting for Nightly News recently on bank robberies in America, we found the separation of myth and reality. We've all heard of the famous bank robbers who were celebrated in movies, song and print -- John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Willie Sutton, Alvin Karpis, Frank and Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and "Pretty Boy" Floyd.
And surely we've all laughed, or least shaken our heads, at some of the nicknames given by police and the media to current robbers -- Mad Hatter, Ponytail Bandit, Barbie Bandits, Leprechaun Bandit, Bossy Bandit, Cell Phone Bandit, and Band-Aid Bandit, just to name a few.
While bank robbery has always enjoyed an odd bit of folk appreciation -- think Robin Hood -- the truth is that it's usually a dangerous crime committed by desperate people. Many are strung out on drugs or alcohol, or are at their wit's end in terms of economic survival.
Police say one of the most frightening scenarios they face involves an armed bank robber -- twitchy and perhaps high to begin with -- who is spooked by a security guard, a reluctant teller or a customer trying to be a hero. That's when panicked shots are fired, and innocent people get hurt or killed. Sometimes it happens with no apparent reason. The threat is always there.
In May alone, two tellers in Bessemer, Ala., and another in Chicago were murdered in bank robberies, while two other tellers, a customer and a guard were injured. In Tampa, Fla., recently, victims of the prolific Band-Aid bandit, who allegedly robbed 39 banks before he was caught, testified about the terror they felt when he pointed a gun at their heads, forcing some to the floor.
After a drop in bank robberies a few years ago, they're back on the rise again, according to the FBI. And certain parts of the country are getting hit particularly hard. With branch banks on virtually every corner now, the threat is rising.
The Hollywood and tabloid myths can be fun, and have entertained us for years. But they are far from the realities of this frightening crime.
I'll have more about this tonight on the broadcast.